It’s said that it takes a village to raise a child. New parents often feel some nerves or anxiety about the decisions they need to make for a baby, and it’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed by looking after a child alone. In fact, even experienced parents have these same feelings too! 

When you’re feeling too tired to see straight about your decisions for your little one, if you have concerns about feeding your baby, you’re struggling with postpartum recovery, or you simply need another pair of hands, this is where the community around you is so important. Not everyone has family or friends nearby to help, but every parent in the UK does have access to an experienced team of health visitors who are able to provide support and guidance.

Before your little one is born, you will be assigned a community midwife or team. They will help you to navigate the different stages of pregnancy and to prepare you for birth. Midwives will also be present at the birth and immediately afterwards. In most situations, you will remain under midwife care until you are discharged from midwife care. This is usually between 10 and 14 days after the birth, and for the majority of this time, you will likely meet your midwife in home visits or at a local health centre once you have left the hospital. The milestone that most babies pass to be discharged from midwife care is to regain their birth weight. At this point, your care is passed from midwife to health visitor.

What is a health visitor?

A health visitor is a highly qualified nurse or midwife with specialised training in public health and child development. They are generally very experienced in what it means to raise a baby and are your link to accessing any further support required. The best way to consider a health visitor is a bridge between the clinical world and the reality of raising a baby.

When do I see a health visitor?

Normally you will have already met your health visitor or a member of the health visiting team before your baby is born. They will contact you between 28 and 36 weeks to arrange a home visit where they will introduce the service they offer and discuss a few important things with you, such as bonding with your baby, initiating breastfeeding, your own physical and mental health, how you can prepare yourself and your home for parenthood and more. They may like to know certain things like where your baby will sleep and give you advice on safe sleep for newborns.

After birth, you will receive a home visit from your health visitor between 10 and 21 days for your new birth review. At this visit, they will discuss your labour and birth, how you are feeding your baby, safe sleep and your mental health. They will also weigh your little one, take a head circumference, and discuss the immunisation programme with you.

This will be followed up with a 6 week review where your baby’s development including weight and head circumference will be checked. You will also again be offered support for feeding, sleep, crying and your mental health.

Some areas offer additional visits in between the 6 week review and the developmental reviews at 1 year and 2 to 2 ½ years. Before these visits, you will be sent an Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ-3) to complete. This helps you and the health visitor to better evaluate your baby’s development and whether they are meeting their milestones in a low pressure environment and over a space of team leading up to the appointment.

It is very important that you are honest with your health visitor with anything you are experiencing, good or bad. They are there to help, guide and support you and your family. They are the best way to connect with any required support, whether that’s the infant feeding team, access to a health professional who can support any mental health concerns, or even just advice on weaning your little one.

Your health visitor will provide you with a red book where you and they can record your little one’s development, including immunisations, milestones, weight, height and head circumference. You will also be given contact details for your health visitor or health visiting team so that you can get in touch with anything that you need to at any time.